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Medicaid referendum faces uncertain future

medicaidOrganizers of a grassroots conservative effort to refer Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan to the ballot are keeping quiet about their progress as they prepare for the final month of their signature-gathering efforts.

Meanwhile, the business groups, hospitals and other supporters of Medicaid expansion have changed tracks in the efforts to undermine the referendum drive.

The United Republican Alliance of Principled Conservatives (URAPC) kicked off its referendum drive in late June to widespread skepticism about its ability to collect the 85,405 valid signatures it needs to refer key provisions of the Medicaid expansion plan to the November 2014 ballot. Since then, those doubts have only deepened.

URAPC chairwoman Christine Bauserman wouldn’t say how many signatures the group has collected. The Tucson Tea Party activist also wouldn’t comment on how much money the group has raised, or whether she expects URAPC to hire paid gatherers, which many political observers view as a necessity if the group wants to collect enough signatures before the deadline.

“We’re working on it,” Bauserman told the ~Arizona Capitol Times.~

URAPC has not filed any financial disclosures with the Secretary of State’s Office, which requires ballot measure committees to disclose any contributions or expenditures of $10,000 or more. When the referendum drive began, Bauserman said she expected outside groups to provide funding if URAPC showed that it was making progress.

Bauserman said signature gathering efforts by URAPC’s all-volunteer crew had a brief lull in late July as volunteers took summer vacations and prepared to send their children back to school. But Bauserman said the signature gathering is ramping up again.

Since the referendum drive began, Bauserman said, a total of about 1,200 volunteers have assisted the effort. She said URAPC currently has about 500 people collecting signatures for the referendum, and new volunteers are signing up every day. Though she wouldn’t say how many signatures URAPC has collected, Bauserman said the group is on pace.

“We’re doing good. We’re not ahead of schedule. We’re not behind schedule. We need to keep it up. We have a lot of momentum,” she said.

Opponents of the referendum drive are dismissive of URAPC’s chances. Jaime Molera, a spokesman for Restoring Arizona, a group created by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and other supporters of Brewer’s Medicaid plan, said he doubts the grassroots conservative group will be able to collect enough signatures.

“I don’t see them honestly being able to get any serious resources. They’ve been long on rhetoric and short on funding and actual manpower. So I’m a little less concerned about their ability to get paid signature gatherers. So now there’s other areas we’re going to focus on,” Molera said.

The most recent phase of Restoring Arizona’s bid to undermine URAPC’s efforts has focused on alleged legal flaws in the referendum drive. Elections attorney Kory Langhofer, who is representing Restoring Arizona and its sister organization, Arizonans for Sensible Health Care Policy, sent two letters to Secretary of State Ken Bennett claiming that the referendum drive hasn’t complied with Arizona law.

The first letter focused on arguments put forth months ago by the Brewer administration alleging that Medicaid expansion is not subject to a citizen referendum because the Arizona Constitution prohibits laws passed “for the support and maintenance” of state government from  being referred to the ballot. Langhofer pointed Bennett to a 20-year-old Arizona Court of Appeals ruling that shut down a referendum drive against a tax in Greenlee County, and reminded him that expanding Medicaid not only triggers federal funds for the new coverage, but brings in money for preexisting coverage as well.

In a second letter, Langhofer claimed that URAPC was violating a handful of laws that dictate how referendum petitions must be organized and structured. URAPC’s failure to follow laws requiring petitions to include the name of the bill being referred and the full text of the legislation, not just the part being referred, means its signatures will be invalid, even if it collects enough signatures to send Medicaid expansion to the ballot.

Bauserman denies Langhofer’s allegations, and said URAPC’s attorneys found the claims “laughable.” The Secretary of State’s Office declined to weigh in, saying those issues are for the courts to decide.

An email from Bauserman and former Sens. Frank Antenori and Ron Gould, who are helping to lead URAPC’s efforts, accused “the Governor’s Team” of using a flawed legal analysis to confuse and discourage its volunteers.

“To our loyal and hardworking volunteers: Do not be distracted. These attempts are intentionally designed to stall principled conservatives from gathering signatures while you search for answers to erroneous questions,” the email read.

Molera said Langhofer’s letters were intended to discourage people from signing URAPC’s petitions and to show the public that the referendum drive is an “amateur hour” operation that should not be taken seriously.

“I want folks to know where we’re coming from and that the leadership of this effort really doesn’t know what it’s doing,” Molera said.

Bauserman said Restoring Arizona’s recent effort is “deceptive,” and said it wouldn’t work. She said the group is switching strategies because its recent attempt to derail the referendum drive with a rival signature-gathering campaign failed.

Restoring Arizona has spent nearly $300,000 on its anti-referendum campaign, which included hiring signature gathering firms to collect signatures on a nonbinding petition of support for Medicaid expansion. But the group appears to have halted its signature-gathering efforts.

According to records on the Secretary of State’s Office’s website, Restoring Arizona hasn’t filed a $10,000 notification since July 10, when it reported a $25,000 contribution from Stand for Children Arizona and a $30,000 expenditure The Summit Group, a consulting firm.

One petition gatherer who worked for the Restoring Arizona campaign said the group stopped collecting signatures about three weeks ago. Molera said it’s untrue that Restoring Arizona called off its signature gathering campaign three weeks ago, but wouldn’t say whether the group is still circulating its petitions.

 

Quick Facts

Signatures needed: 86,405

Deadline: Sept. 11

Election date is successful: Nov. 4, 2013

 

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